By Brittany Jablonsky, NFU Government Relations Representative

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently issued its proposed rule to establish a proposed national marketing agreement regulating leafy green vegetables. This rulemaking was the result of a request by the largest players in the leafy greens industry, who petitioned USDA to write regulations based on the statewide leafy green marketing agreements established by the industry in California and Arizona in the wake of the 2006 E. coli outbreak in California spinach.

However, if this agreement is allowed to move forward, it will, in effect, be affording the largest produce handlers (meaning processors, shippers and packers of leafy green vegetables) the power to establish on-farm practices for all growers of leafy greens, regardless of size.

The phrase “largest produce handlers” is not hyperbole. In fact, the 150 signatories on the California and Arizona leafy green marketing agreements comprise nearly 90 percent of U.S. leafy green production.

The agreement would establish regulations that conflict with the realities of small and medium-sized diverse farms, certain conservation measures and organic production methods and that are enforced through burdensome recordkeeping requirements and commodity-specific metrics.

Proponents of the agreement argue that it is voluntary and therefore shouldn’t adversely affect farmers because they can always choose to sell to handlers who are not part of the agreement. However, if no handlers will accept produce outside of the agreement, it certainly is no longer voluntary.

Despite all of the problems the proposed agreement poses, the core of the issue is the effect it would have on American consumers’ confidence in the safety of our food supply. All Americans have the right to safe food, and claiming that certain foods sold in the U.S. are “safer” than others only for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace is disingenuous and unethical.

We cannot let marketing agreements be the “cops on the beat” when it comes to food safety. Last year Congress passed the first update to food safety laws in more than 70 years, but if the House gets their way, the administration won’t have the money necessary to implement the law. On June 16, the U.S. House of Representatives voted  217-203 to strip $87 million from already-strapped Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety programs. The FDA is responsible for the safety of leafy greens, both domestic and imported.

The proposed National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement will not make our food safer, but will only serve to put additional power in the hands of an already-concentrated industry and place another burden on small family farmers while ignoring the threat of foodborne illnesses from processing and imported vegetables. It’s time to get serious about food safety in this country, but it’s clear a marketing agreement isn’t the answer.

For more information or to submit comments on the proposed National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, click here.

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